So I spent a full twenty minutes looking for Mell in the artwork, increasingly anxious that - impossible - she might not be there. Gradually, heartbreakingly, the reality sank in.
Where could she be? How was she not invited? Did her absence suggest something grim - the other reality of the season, its inverse ritual of depression, alienation, and despair? Was she an orphan alone on Christmas, struggling with the memories of the family taken from her?
How many drinks was she up to now?
I could picture her in a darkened chamber of the ship, kneeling, head bowed. Around her lay scattered relics of the past: the secret touchstones that nobody knows she keeps. (This once belonged to your mother... your father used to wear this around his neck...) A wooden Eldrid toy, chipped and battered. Photographs and letters, ragged from handling. A lock of her own hair, saved from before she'd turned to the mirror and tried to shave herself into a different woman. One who wouldn't cry, who would be too tough to care, who wouldn't sit in the dark and ache and tremble...
And then I heard a light step behind me, and I turned.
"Don't worry about me," she said. "I'm spending Christmas with you."
Then she paused, and added, "Also, babe, you are certifiable."
"I wish we could have said the same about the Winter Patch," I said.
Thanks for the ride so far, everyone. It has been wild. See you around the corner